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<nettime> Deborah Orr: What does idealism get you today? Abuse, derision
Patrice Riemens on Wed, 7 Aug 2013 09:15:07 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Deborah Orr: What does idealism get you today? Abuse, derision, or sometimes prison (Guardian)


Original to:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/03/what-does-idealism-get-you

What does idealism get you today? Abuse, derision, or sometimes prison
By Deborah Orr, The Guardian, Saturday 3-5 August 2013


>From Bradley Manning to the Jane Austen banknote campaigners to 'outsider
artists', the world does not seem to favour those acting on idealist
principles these days.

Is it just me, or do these feel like very strange days indeed? The world
is holding its breath ? and it's stifling. Ever since the financial crash,
there's been a sense of stasis, of waiting to see what emerges. As the
wait goes on, the feeling of contingency becomes more oppressive. The
whimsical slogan that appeared in the immediate wake of the crisis, "Keep
calm and carry on", makes all right-thinking people want to hurl. But
that's largely because people aren't just keeping calm. A pervasive air of
resignation has taken over.

Sure, there's lots of protest on social networking sites, lots of
declarations, petitions, information. Yet, this feels like converted
people are preaching to each other, their ideas and beliefs only gaining
traction when opponents resort to anonymous abuse and threats. Far from
bringing people together, social networking sometimes seems only to reveal
the depths of our division.

The US, self-appointed standard-bearer of western freedom, is likely to
jail Bradley Manning for a couple of lifetimes because he revealed the
electronic messages that those who see themselves as running the world
prefer to keep secret. Yet Edward Snowden is on the run, in justified fear
of similar punishment, because he did the opposite, and let the world know
that those who see themselves as running it, do not afford anyone else the
privacy that they insist is their right.

The them-and-us mentality that the elite imposes on its citizens is so
painfully obvious. Yet public anger against these twin insults is muted.
In part, this is because the scale of the abuse is almost too large to
grasp. But it's also because individual resistance seems futile. Look, as
you are meant to, at what has become of the individuals who resisted.

All this is done in the name of protecting us from terrorism. But it
wasn't terrorism that brought the world to the brink of collapse. It was
finance, and the way that it's conducted. The banking sector, far from
being a rogue element in an otherwise functioning international society,
is best viewed as a microcosm, the powerful motor of a machine for
wielding control by dividing and ruling. The failure of banking indicates
the failure of the whole shebang. Maybe that's just too big a failure for
the world to acknowledge yet.

Instead, the struggle is to heave the wounded creature back on its feet,
come what may. In the mainstream media, even when it is being critical,
human development and endeavour is reduced to the same old numbers game.
Cuts in public services aren't wrong because they cause suffering. They're
wrong because they won't help "recovery". The beast is perceived as in
need of rehabilitation, when its malaise is more likely to be incurable.
The conventional idea is banal ? that economic growth will return, and
things will "pick up". That viewpoint insists that this interstitial
period is coming to an end, that things are picking up now, getting back
to "normal". But does anyone understand what "normal" will be?

After all these years and all that talk, the bailouts, the new
regulations, the promises of "never again", the banking crisis isn't over.
Barclays has announced a giant hole in its finances; the Co-operative Bank
is in jeopardy. These were banks that seemed to have survived the eruption
of 2007-8, only to fall victim to huge aftershocks. The eurozone sits
precariously, its initial argument that the banking crisis was
"Anglo-Saxon" long forgotten, as it too awaits developments, unpredictable
beyond the certainty that they won't be pleasant.

Far from offering a cohesive blueprint for a safer and more secure future,
politics feels entirely opportunistic. The Conservatives are removing
state support as quickly as they can, their gamble presumably being that,
come the next boom, there will be an excellent supply of people eager to
work hard for low wages. The Lib Dems? They have sacrificed all hope of
the change they once offered as a third party, just when hope and change
are needed most. Worse, Labour seems just as irrelevent as the Lib Dems.
As for the rising stars ? Ukip ? that's a populist party that offers only
one thing ? placing all blame elsewhere, with the EU. The best that can be
said of them is that they are not the English Defence League, an
affiliation of pale, bloated losers who also fail to see that by
continually blaming others for their woes, they advertise only their
inadequacy in the face of the task of renewal.

Most eerily, even the voices that were raised against the frightening
rapaciousness of global capitalism while it was still in its pomp,
pre-crash, seem more muted now, not less. Instead of being a vociferous
member of the campaign to Make Poverty History, the Church of England
offers credit unions space in its buildings, to wage war on Wonga, before
retreating in embarrassment when it was revealed that the CofE invests in
Wonga itself. The Occupy movement ? its flagship camp of course rejected
by the CofE ? was easily dismissed for its amateurism, in a world that
expects every message, whatever its content, to be delivered with all the
gloss and style that only money can buy. Other recent protests ? against
student loans or the inchoate opportunism of the English riots ? have been
not just unattractive, but self-defeating. Environmentalism is not the
mainstream force it came so close to being.

Single-issue campaigning, via social networks, offers some sense of
purchase for the individuals heading the campaigns as well as the masses
signing petitions. And yet, women being threatened with rape or bombing
because they have succeeded in getting Jane Austen on a banknote ? can
there be any more potent example of the sense that there are all sorts of
wild resentments out there? People seek a focus for their hatred without
leaving their bedrooms, their personal narrative so bleak and negative
that they reject it themselves, by remaining anonymous.

The saddest thing is that those Twitter threats represent a desire to
dismiss idealism of any kind ? even modest idealism ? as naïve, cranky,
threatening. This week, visiting London's Hayward Gallery, I looked at the
Alternative Guide to the Universe. This group show is the work of outsider
artists interested in depicting imaginary utopian cities. A Congolese
model-maker, Bodys Isek Kingelez, constructs polished junk models of
buildings he would like to see in "the modern society of the third
millennium where there will be lasting peace, justice and universal
freedom". The Polish artist, Jan Gluszak Dagarama, offers his drawings of
his "personal dream of an ideal city ? Humanopolis". AG Rizzoli's fantasy
world is called YTTE ? "Yield to Total Elation". In William Scott's
re-imagined San Francisco, there is an "emphasis on dancing and
happiness".

How sad it is that dreaming such dreams renders you an "outsider",
untrained in the technicalities of the possible, designing buildings that
won't be built, cities that won't be funded and prioritising such
economically non-viable human possibilities as wellbeing. Insiders
subscribe only to the art of the possible, or so they like to tell us.
Waiting for these guys to come up with answers, with inspiring or moving
visions? That's going to be a long and sterile wait. And idealism? Ask
Manning and Snowden. It's a criminal offence.

? This article was amended on 5 August 2013. An earlier version said that
Bradley Manning had been jailed, when his sentencing hearing is ongoing.






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